Discover the Rare Leader.

As with most blogs, you will find our most recent posting at the top in your current view.
On your first visit, begin with "What is the Rare Leader".
Reading subsequent postings under the archive section will allow you to "catch up" on the story of the Rare Leader.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Life Is Full Of Choices…Make One.

Collaboration...Teamwork...Delegation...Job Sharing...Cooperation...Empower...Partnership...Compromise...and the list goes on.  What do these words have in common?  Potentially they mean - “nothing gets decided”.  
These terms of the day, are all the rage.  However, inclusion of your Team and your Associates is more of an art than a science.  Because, all of this talk of sharing in the decision seems to also slow down the process of actually making a decision.
I was asked to help a new leader assimilate into her role.  It sounded simple enough as she had been an important part of the success of this office.  
Cynthia was the ideal choice to be promoted to Lead the regional office.  She had been with this industry leader for 15 years.  Her resume carried all the necessary signs of success.  Double major in marketing and business, an MBA, and high grades from her Team in her 360 reviews.  The Succession Planning program had highlighted the competency gaps between her current strengths and this new position.  An accelerated development program closed the gap quite nicely over the past 15 months.  Everyone loved Cynthia.  
During the assimilation we found mostly support for her and few surprises to work through in her Coaching agenda.  Although, I did feel some level of caution in my mind with one particular topic.  It seemed that everyone loved Cynthia too much.  Think about it.  Hasn't every leader you have followed had some flaw?  Hasn't every leader done something to promote some level of distaste or second guessing?  
I spent some time with the group trying to bring out this concern.  After some difficult pushing, pulling, and dragging, it finally came to me.  The culture of this office had slowly eroded to a picture perfect example of passive aggressiveness.  Everyone was afraid or unwilling to make a decision on their own, and the success of group meetings was built on a foundation of alliances, and coffee talk, making certain no one would be offended by the resulting group decisions.  Yes, everyone loved Cynthia.  She was  gifted at being passive, able to stay out of the fray of decision making.
I decided to let the group move in their chosen direction.  But, we agreed I would visit again for a followup in a month or two.  In advance of my planned re-visit, I was called by the home office to listen to their anxiety driven story.  It seems Cynthia's office was in trouble.  Production was down, customer service inquiries were diving downward, two key producers had quit, and their exit interviews told the story of an office frozen with no direction, no leadership, no answers to key questions, and day to day issues with no purposeful resolve.
As the group came into our room, the look was indeed different.  It was amazing how quickly the aggressive side to their culture had taken control.  This was one group of unhappy people.  But  everyone still seemed to love Cynthia.
Through our group discussions, and some affinity group coaching exercises, I was able to help the group reach some important conclusions.  Cynthia was not Leading;
  • Don’t get me wrong, she was a Visionary, but what good is her Vision when the walls are crumbling around you after only 60 days on the job?
  • She had Charisma.  Everyone still loved Cynthia.  Amidst the turmoil, Cynthia was still the fun one to be with.
  • Cynthia was still Driven To Succeed.   She was the first one in the office, the last one to leave at the end of the day, and made it quite clear she logged more miles and met with more customers than anyone else in the office.  As the walls were tumbling down, Cynthia needed to make certain her own numbers were still up.  
  • Cynthia was protecting the Relationships she had created over her 15 years with the company.  Relationships are important to a Leader...but at what cost?
Yes, Cynthia still had many good competencies and behaviors of a Leader.  But something was indeed lacking?
Cynthia had established a very rigid schedule of group and team meetings.  She had opened each meeting with a quick discussion of the words which would be key to their success.
  • Collaboration...
  • Teamwork...
  • Delegation...
  • Job Sharing...
  • Cooperation...
  • Empower...
  • Partnership...
  • Compromise.  
Yes, it’s those words again.  But one key phrase was missing.  She was ignoring the focus of “Decision Making”.  
Nothing was getting done.  It may have been a small symptom of a larger problem, it may have been a customer complaint, or it may have been a blowup between key employees.  But on this day, we came to realize Cynthia was not making a decision as their leader on most topics that came her way.
Yes, yes, yes...these are great words.  These are wonderful sets of Teamwork ideology.  But lets face it.  Someone must make a decision.  In the end, (or perhaps in the beginning, or even midstream) The Leader must be decisive.  The Rare Leader™ must be able to assess, analyze, and move toward a  solution using instincts, and be willing to take a risk where the absence of facts makes the better decision.  Life is full of choices…make one.
  1. Who is responsible to make the decision?
  2. What decisions never seem to be made?
  3. Where can you go if you need to resolve a question?
  4. When will you start making Decisions?
  5. How will you change your behavior of avoiding decision making?
If you want to learn more about the Rare Leader™ in you, 
or if you are interested in retaining Steve as your Executive Coach, 
Contact Steve Riege via: twitter, or his website.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Peeling The Onion...

Did this title really bring you here?  I’m guessing it wasn’t because you thought I would teach you how to correctly peel an onion with out crying.  (Although I know how to do that as well.)  
You’ve no doubt heard the expression “peeling the onion” back farther to reveal a deeper underlying root cause, instead of just the surface symptoms. Or, perhaps we venture out in life being very good at “peeling the onion,” by asking why, and why, and then why again, until we have gone as deep as we can go in getting answers.  
My Grandson Mason mastered this technique.  Mason, don’t run down the stairs, I would yell.   Why not Run Grandpa?  Because you’ll fall and get hurt.  Why fall Grandpa?  Because your legs are too short for the stair height.  Why legs so short Grandpa?  Because you’re only 3 years old Mason.  Why 3 Grandpa? this time he was down the stairs safely, but I was worn out.  He won.
As adults, and as Leaders we need reminders that many situations warrant digging deeper than others typically do. In today’s high speed technology driven world of diverse people and generations, we often feel pressured to “finish” one task and quickly move on to another.
Why is Tom failing Debbie asked me?  He seemed perfect when we hired him.  He has a good undergraduate degree, and an MBA from the best business school in the Midwest.  Tom’s 10 years experience in very specifically related tasks seemed to qualify him well.  His references all checked out.  The onion skin had now been broken and peeled back, revealing a very shiny aubergine layer.
How has Tom done in his first year, I asked?  Well, you know, it is the honeymoon time being new on the job, and the markets have been really tough.  And then we lost a big client.   But I thought Tom was doing pretty well, until...Now the second layer of the onion was about to be pulled away.  A subtle symptom of a failing employee fell to the floor. 
Well, until one of our key employees began to complain.  Now I really trust Barb.  She’s a legacy employee.  She’s loyal, and smart, and has no reason to make things up, so I listened Debbie said.  Barb told me Tom had not been truthful on performance reviews.  Everyone was getting a similar above average rating.  Another layer of the onion fell away.
When Debbie subsequently asked Tom about the performance reviews, Tom was a bit uncomfortable, and seemed to have a pretty good answer to every question.  It didn’t add up to Barbs concern.  Another layer came away.
Debbie carefully peeled away yet another layer of not so subtle symptoms, and reviewed all the performance appraisals herself.  Barb was correct.  These are all vanilla.  Tom was lying to me, Debbie thought to herself.
When Tom came in Barbs office, he could see the reviews stacked on Debbie’s desk.  He knew the topic of the hour.  Debbie began her questions.  but this time she was prepared.  She had peeled enough layers of the onion away to be near the truth.  After the normal course of who, what, where, when, and how questions, Tom was as worn out as Grandpa was from Mason.
Debbie told me how pleased she was to have continued to probe, peeling the onion to discover the truth about Tom’s failing performance.  Now, she wanted advice about what to do next with Tom.  She was prepared to fire him.
I asked her to peel the onion even further.  After peeling away the final layers, and taking a closer look, and Debbie summarized she discovered Tom had supervised people before, but not such a diverse work force as this.  At his previous employer, the culture was quite easy going and laid back, while here, we are driven and accountable to metrics and goals.  And, when finally arriving at a place of personal trust with Tom, he confided, that he had an aversion to conflict.  
Debbie had now found the core of the onion.  If Tom could receive some help understanding the rules of engagement within this culture of accountability, and learn to use the available tools to manage conflict, he just might be come a better manager.  
So it really wasn’t about Tom failing to document performance.  It was about her own failure to assess and recognize the culture differences and conflict aversion issues Tom has had all along in his career.  She had focused on the last of the “C”’s (Craft), and missed the Core and Character “C”’s in the hiring process.  [see “Hiring Up” from March 22, 2010]
The Rare Leader™ today must accept the Ambiguity of the workplace.  Knowing when and how to peel back the onion at the same time as juggling lots of balls while maintaining focus, will help to view micro and macro details fitting into the big picture.  
And sometimes, when we peel back the onion, we need to realize we find ourselves at the core.
  1. Who is at the core of the onion in your conflict?
  2. What can you do to make certain you have peeled away every layer of the onion?
  3. Where can you discover the onion in an issue facing you?
  4. When will you begin to peeling the onion to discover core issues?
  5. How can you learn the skill of peeling the onion?

If you want to learn more about the Rare Leader™ in you, 
or if you are interested in retaining Steve as your Executive Coach, 
Contact Steve Riege via: twitter, or his website.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Connecting The Dots...

He handed me the envelope.  It was sealed, dated, and said simply Steve.  “Save this and open it when we finish our work” he said, with a slight upturned grin.
4 months earlier, Vince and I began collaborating on a strategic planning project.  Several weeks ago, he gave me this envelope.  Knowing him as well as I did, I knew this had something to do with the project.  So into my briefcase went the letter sized envelope, almost forgotten until today. 
Today, we met with the CEO to present our final report and recommendations.  We were very prepared.  Our respective Teams had done their research, compiled data, and aggressively challenged each other on options and final paths.  We were confident of the new direction the Organization needed to go, and now we needed to convince the Charismatic leader.  
As Vince offered a brief introduction of our agenda, I placed the thick deck in front of him.  The CEO placed his hands around the binder, and then slowly let it fall back on the table.  “Guys”, he said, “I want to take a brief diversion.  It may change the course of your recommendation”.  Great, I thought.  We did all of this careful work, and the CEO had been holding out some important information we should have considered.  But we did our homework.   We had open access to everything.  What else could there be?
The CEO’s eyes focused carefully on each of us in this moment of silence that seemed to last 15 minutes, and then spoke strongly and slowly...“I have decided to resign”.

Separate from our work, the CEO had realized the Organization needed to go in a direction he was not prepared or interested to lead.  His self assessment of his skills, his passions, and his own personal goals made it clear to him it was time for a change.
The meeting took an obvious turn, and the CEO was correct.  Throughout the next 45 minutes, he was able to predict almost every recommendation and path our Teams had decided upon.  The plan met his approval, but with his imminent departure, there was now an additional step required to make it succeed.
As we drove away together, I was still a bit shocked.  One of the issues Vince and I struggled with, was a concern about the CEO being able to successfully lead this new venture.  But how did he know?  Vince asked me if I still had the envelope he gave me.  I reached into my crowded briefcase and there it was, still sealed.  I carefully slid my pen under the glued seal and tore it open.  Inside was one piece of yellow legal pad paper, tri-folded.  I opened the page and there were three words printed in Vince’s handwriting.  “He will resign”.
“What?  How?  How did you know?”  I immediately thought the two of them had colluded, speaking secretly behind me.  Vince said, “I just have this ability to connect the dots.  I can’t explain how, or why, but I see things coming together very quickly and over the years, I have been correct most of the time”. 
I reminded myself that Vince was himself a retired President, CEO, and Board Chair of several very successful organizations. “But how did the CEO know” I asked?  
This CEO is a remarkable Leader.  On one hand he knows the organization, and the business very well.  All the research and data we collected and analyzed, he either knew previously or sensed.  While he sees the successes and achievements, he also lives with daily stress, roadblocks, and frustrations.  Think about the number of balls he is juggling at one time.  But most importantly, he has a wonderful ability to focus.  He takes all of these details and visionary trends both big and small, and like puzzle pieces, fits them all into the big picture.  
On the other hand, he knows himself.  He knows his strengths.  But most importantly he understands his weaknesses.  And in the end, he knows when it is time to walk away, and look for the next challenge he will passionately pursue towards success.
It’s like connecting the dots I asked?  “Yes...It’s just like connecting the dots...the correct dots.”
These are two Leaders who can accept and promote the ambiguity of leadership.  They can connect the dots, and put all the pieces together into the puzzle.  But most of all, as a Rare Leader™, they also instill this into their Team.
  1. Who do you follow that can “connect the dots”?
  2. What does it mean to “connect the dots”?
  3. Where can you see “connecting the dots” as a leadership behavior?
  4. When will you begin to “connect the dots”?
  5. How can “connecting the dots” help you Lead?
If you want to learn more about the Rare Leader™ in you, 
or if you are interested in retaining Steve as your Executive Coach, 
Contact Steve Riege via: twitter, or his website.

Friday, December 3, 2010

You Annoy Me! (But I have to Lead you anyway)

I was spending the afternoon riding in the car with a good friend.  This long trip could have been more expedient with a short flight, but my host was a road warrior, and he loved the drive.  
As we cruised comfortably at 70, I realized he also had an another motive.  He was considering retirement and was now looking back on his very successful sales career.  Knowing of my work with successful leaders and business owners, he asked me a striking question.  “Steve”, he quietly said...”what do you think is missing?  I mean, I’ve had quite a great career.  I want nothing more financially, and I have more respect than I deserve.  But what do you think Steve?  Based on your experiences with business leaders, is there one more mountain I should climb?  Is there one more war to win?  Should I close one more rainmaker?”
We had an engaging discussion of what might have been, what could be, and while we laughed, and we thought deeply, we were very open and honest.  I laughed the hardest at his response to a simple question.  I asked him if why he had never considered a position in management.  Never at a loss for rapid answers, he raised his voice and said “Cause they annoy me”.   They annoy you, I probed?  Yes...Yes, those people who don’t do it right.  Those people who always have stupid questions, those people who are lazy, those people who have no drive to achieve, those people who, who...Yes I said.  I get it.  People who would work for you would annoy you?  “Actually I find them quite frustrating” he said.  “I would not be a good Leader.”
I thought this was fascinating.  Not that he was annoyed by other people, but the concept that perhaps all high flyers, or all high achievers are annoyed by others they perceive are not up to their level.  But some of these potentially annoyed high flyers  are Leaders.  And some of them are very successful leaders.
So I ventured out into the world of these high flying achievers who were also successful Leaders and asked 2 questions.
  1. Do you find some of the people you lead to be annoying?  (the universal answer was nearly 100% Yes)
  2. How do you overcome the distraction of this annoyance?  (the answers to question #2 were not so simple)
Ahhh - How to overcome the distraction of being annoyed by the people you lead?  That is the question of the day.
In no particular order, here’s what I heard.
  1. Because I have to...It’s my job. (ouch)
  2. I believe in developing others.
  3. I insulate myself from others when ever I can. (ooooh)
  4. I love being around my Team.  I look to their innocence and inexperience as a grounding for me.
  5. I have always felt the ability to be patient, and sensitive to others.
  6. Leaders must believe others have untapped potential.  It’s my responsibility to find it.
  7. If I respect and expect the best, they will learn and succeed...(and also stop annoying me)
  8. If I show them I believe in them, they will reciprocate and follow me.
  9. I listen without bias, using my eyes and feelings, and I reflect back to them what I heard them say.
  10. I remember when I was there when I was younger...(and I knew I annoyed my boss)
In the end, the real truth is, we do get annoyed by others, but if we are expected to Lead, we must overcome this distraction.  After all, showing others we have the ability to handle frustrations such as annoying people, while at the same time we juggle lots of balls, manage stress, and keep the big picture in view, is part of what makes us a Rare Leader™.
  1. Who annoys you at work?
  2. What do you do to overcome the distraction of annoying people?
  3. Where can you make a difference in someones life?
  4. When can you change your attitude about people who annoy you?
  5. How will you develop those who annoy you today?
If you want to learn more about the Rare Leader™ in you, 
or if you are interested in retaining Steve as your Executive Coach, 
Contact Steve Riege via: twitter, or his website.